Originally posted at OzForums by Aristotle
Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast and all the ships at sea (and the odd submarine),
Dateline: Australia, Federal Election 2010.
As soon as it became clear that neither of the major parties was going to have a majority of members in the House of Representatives and therefore would not be able to form a government on their own, the political focus has turned to the three rural Independents – Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter – and the role they will play in determining which party will form the next Australian government.
Various commentators, based in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, have professed to know what “type of people” live in these electorates and therefore how they would think and what they would like to see their members do with their votes.
This, of course, is pure speculation by these commentators.
Perhaps the people who would most know – and this is just a thought, mind you – are the three members who actually live in the electorates and have been repeatedly elected by the “type of people” who are their constituents.
Nevertheless, we have been presented with “research” which professes to clear up any confusion as to what the constituents of these three electorates would like their members to do.
On Wednesday August 25, News Limited papers published the results of a Galaxy poll of 600 voters in the rural Independents’ electorates of New England, Lyne and Kennedy, which found 52 per cent of the voters surveyed supporting a Coalition minority government compared to 36 per cent for a Labor minority government.
On Saturday August 28, The Australian newspaper published the results of a Newspoll poll of 1396 voters in the same seats and found similar results, with 54 per cent of voters supporting a Coalition minority government and 34 per cent a Labor minority government.
The Newspoll results also separated out the voters by the party or candidate they voted for in the 2010 election and found, unsurprisingly, 96 per cent of those who voted for the Coalition wanted to see a Coalition minority government and 95 per cent of those who voted for the Labor party wanted to see a Labor minority government.
But here’s the clincher, among those who voted for Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, 52 per cent suggested that the Independents should support a Coalition government and 34 per cent said they should support Labor.
So there you go, that’s the view of the “type of people” who live in these electorates and voted for an Independent – elect an Abbott minority government. The city based commentators were right and their view is supported by science.
But actually it’s not.
Neither the Galaxy or the Newspoll polls gave the respondents the full, and correct, range of options from which to choose.
While on the surface it appears that it is a binary choice between the Coalition and the ALP; it’s not that at all, as Tony Windsor himself put so clearly when interviewed by Barrie Cassidy on “The Insiders” yesterday,
BARRIE CASSIDY: What about the pressure of opinion polls that clearly show that your electorate prefers Tony Abbott? Are you feeling any pressure from those?
TONY WINDSOR: No not really. I spent a lot of time in the street on Friday and the big message to me was obviously congratulations which I appreciate, but that the electorate would back my judgement either way.
Obviously there’d be Labor people who’d be terribly disappointed if it was the Coalition and National Party voters, 20,000 of them, would be disappointed if I went the other way.
But I think they all recognise that this isn’t a situation of our doing and it’s not just about New England. It is about the governance of the nation and whether we can achieve something that’s relatively stable.
I think we can. But I think that has to be the objective, not the partisan politics of last Saturday. The election is over. The people couldn’t make a determination. They’re asking some others to do so. And I’m quite happy to play a role in that.
The correct and most helpful research that should have been conducted, if it really needed to be conducted at all, was to give the respondents all the options that are actually available to them.
The question should have been:
About the election result in the House of Representatives, which is likely to be a hung parliament, would you most prefer your local member, Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter (as applicable) to:
a. Support an Abbott Coalition minority government
b. Support a Gillard Labor minority government
c. Exercise his own judgement irrespective of which party he chose to support
Note: To avoid distorting the results, these options would be rotated between the three different main responses so that no one option was asked first, second or third more often than any other, as is standard research practice.
What was missed in the Galaxy and Newspoll research, and was so simply explained by Tony Windsor, is that these members were elected as Independents to be Independents, and are acting as Independents in the national interest.
To be truly useful, the published research should have dealt with the realities of the political environment in which we find ourselves. As it stands, the published polling means very little.
It’s no wonder Tony Windsor says he is feeling little pressure from the polling results because, in the country quiet, he could clearly hear the true views of his constituents, something that, understandably, would be difficult to hear over the din of the big cities.